A Successful Skirt from a Failed Dress

Happy Monday, everyone! Check it out, I made a new skirt. The fabric is simple cotton but the print is gorgeous, all floral and spring-like and painterly.

gathered skirt

It may not be the most interesting sewing project ever, but it almost didn’t happen! In its previous life, this fabric was a failed dress project, doomed to the scrap bin for over a year.

gathered floral skirt

This used to be a sample of the Cambie Dress, while I was still working out the design. The bodice wasn’t quite right, which made the dress unwearable in its current state.

Once I’d finalized the Cambie pattern, I had no more need for this dress prototype. In fact I regretted using good fabric when the design wasn’t ready. (Should have made just one more muslin first!) So I’d stashed it in the scrap bin for future refashioning. Out of sight, out of mind!

used to be a dress, now it's a skirt!

After making the Lauriel Cardigan, in all its bright golden glory, I needed something to go with it. Something fairly muted, a little feminine, with hints of yellow. I was purging the scrap bin and remembered how pretty this fabric was and how unfortunate that I’d wasted it. That’s where I came up with the idea to rework this dress into a skirt! I’d save it from the scrap bin and complete an outfit, all with one project.

If you’ve ever made a dress that didn’t turn out quite right, if the lower half fits or has plenty of volume to work with, why not turn it into a skirt?! It’s easiest with full pleated or gathered skirts, as you can easily re-gather or re-pleat it into a new waistband. It’s also easiest if your dress has a waist, with bodice and skirt pieces joined along a seamline, so it’s easy to decide where the skirt begins.

First, save the skirt pieces. Carefully unpick the waistline seam, or cut below the seamline. (I cut to save time, and also because I knew there was plenty of length in the skirt. If your dress is on the short side, unpick the seam instead to save every bit of length!)

cut at waistline seam

Make sure the zipper is open and the tab is below the waistline where you’re going to cut. You want that tab on the new skirt!

make sure zipper tab is on the skirt part of the dress

Make any necessary repairs. For the pockets I’d originally tried to secure them into the waist seam, figuring they wouldn’t flop around as much, but it wasn’t very comfortable to put your hands in them that way. So I re-drew the pocket line, and sewed and serged the pocket.

make any repairs, like the pocket edges

Cut a waistband. I thought of using a contrast navy fabric for visual interest, but also because my scraps of this blue floral fabric were too small to cut the full piece. Instead I decided to piece the waistband out of the leftover floral fabric. I placed the pieced seams at the sides, so the waistband ended up being three pieces.

seamed waistband to use smaller pieces

I used the Hollyburn Skirt‘s waistband piece, and added a 1 1/2″ overlap and underlap to place a button.

I regathered the skirt to fit the new waistband. You could pleat yours, but gathering is the fastest and easiest.

re-gather top edge of skirt

Lastly, I attached the waistband, and topstitched all around it.

button on the outside of the waistband

I sewed one button to the top of the waistband, and one as a stay button on the inside.

A tip about stay buttons – save the ones that come in a plastic bag with purchased pants! I inherited a bunch of buttons and about half of the buttons were the extra sets that come with store-bought dress pants.

stay button on inside of waistband

Bonus: the skirt was already hemmed from when it was a dress!

mustard-yellow seam binding

I love this mustard-yellow seam binding. Another thing that was too pretty to waste.

yellow seam binding on the hem

Success! A new skirt, a project saved from the scrap bin, and something to wear with my Lauriel cardigan.

floral skirt and lauriel cardigan

Have you ever done this with a dress, either a purchased dress or a sewing project that didn’t work out? It’s easy to do! You could always re-attach the skirt to a new bodice in a coordinating colour. If you’re going to do that, look for a pattern that has a waist seam so it’s easy to swap in your new gathered skirt.

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44 Responses to A Successful Skirt from a Failed Dress

  1. Tasha March 25, 2013 at 6:08 am #

    What a gorgeous skirt, and I LOVE that you used yellow seam binding. You almost want the wind to blow a peek, especially when wearing it with your cardigan. lol Yay for creative saves!

  2. Maggie March 25, 2013 at 6:24 am #

    A great save! It would have been such a shame to not save such a great print and that fabulous seam binding! Looks great with your new cardigan too :)

  3. Teresa March 25, 2013 at 7:34 am #

    I love this sort of project. With big breasts for my small waist most RTW dresses simply will never fit quite right (I don’t like belting) but sometimes that fabric is soooo cute for less than $2. Making that dress into a skirt has long been my favorite thrift shop refashion but for some reason I never think about doing it to my own projects

  4. lisa g March 25, 2013 at 7:34 am #

    good save, the fabric is beautiful! this happened to me recently but it was more of a style that wasn’t quite right on me. i had put a lot of work into the whole dress… ruffles, piping, pockets, button placket… i reclaimed the lower portion for a skirt and will be able to attach a new midriff and skirt to save the bodice. i’d much rather save something than throw it out!

  5. Carolyn March 25, 2013 at 7:39 am #

    Great save! I did something similar (though much more basic) to an old sleeveless shift dress. Mine had no zipper to contend with (almost no shaping either), and I needed a skirt that would fit my post-baby body, so I chopped off the dress bodice and added an elastic waistband to the skirt portion. Nearly instant skirt. It was really satisfying to get the dress out of my scrap pile too.

  6. annette tirette March 25, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Lovely! I recently did the same thing with a dress that never fit quite right in the bodice, and managed to save some beloved fabric that would have been wasted otherwise!

  7. Christine March 25, 2013 at 7:56 am #

    So cute! And I love your sweater too!

  8. jillyb3 March 25, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    This is so great! I love it! Just this weekend I was lamenting that the fabric I chose for my Cambie doesn’t look very nice close to my face, but that it makes a nice skirt. I was trying to figure out how I could make a skirt from the dress, and now here you have shown me! I love the button waistband. Are there any tricks to doing that? Maybe you have a good tutorial to recommend?

    • Tasia March 25, 2013 at 10:52 am #

      All I did was add an overlap to each side of the Hollyburn Skirt’s waistband (or any waistband piece that you know fits). On each side, I made a buttonhole – pretty much in the same spot for the underlap and the overlap – and then sewed a button to match. I didn’t follow a tutorial, I made it up as I went along and only took these photos! I hope this gives you a starting point.

      This shows how to attach a waistband in greater detail – http://blog.caseybrowndesigns.com/2011/09/cssa-attaching-the-waistband/ – except that she has JUST the underlap. To make it look like mine, add an overlap and an underlap, and instead of hook and eye, sew buttonholes and buttons.

      • jillyb3 March 26, 2013 at 5:12 am #

        Thanks, Tasia!

  9. Beth (SunnyGal Studio) March 25, 2013 at 8:14 am #

    Great save, very pretty skirt. I have done this before. And also I think the bottom half of the Cambie pattern would make a great slim skirt.

  10. Marie March 25, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    What a great save!!!

  11. ClaireE March 25, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    What a wonderful outfit! This hasn’t happened to me yet but I’ll be prepared now if it ever does.

  12. Micelle March 25, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    Great save! The fabric is gorgeous. I’m glad you found a way to make this a wonderfully wearable piece.

  13. Diane @ Vintage Zest March 25, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    I haven’t done it yet, but I actually have a dress with a bodice that I dislike a lot and always throw a cardigan over. Now I can salvage it! Thanks for the great idea!

  14. Amanda March 25, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    That fabric is beyond beautiful, I’m so glad you managed to save it! Where did you get it? Just wondering if I can find it myself. :) Nice work!

    • Tasia March 25, 2013 at 10:20 am #

      It’s from Fabricana (my local store) and I bought it over a year ago. It’ll be hard to track down! It’s got a slight twill weave, and I’m certain it’s 100% cotton. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful!

      • Tasia March 25, 2013 at 10:25 am #

        Actually, now that I think of it, it was over two years ago that I bought the fabric! Oops.

        • Amanda March 25, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

          Ah, thanks anyway! This might be for the best since I just bought 3 new pieces of fabric. Avoids the temptation of buying more. :)

  15. Sue March 25, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    This skirt is so cute! I’m really loving the pretty floral fabric. :)

  16. Ledys March 25, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    This outfit is absolutely stunning, Tasia. Those colors look so great on you! The cardigan is spectacular. Could I ask you how long it takes you to knit up a sweater? I would like to try it but I am feeling a but daunted ;-)

    • Tasia March 25, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

      I think that one took about three to four months? It’s a slow process when you’re learning, don’t be discouraged! The thicker the yarn, the faster it knits up. The less details, the faster it knits up too. Something like this – http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/miette – would be a good cardigan to start with, or the St. James sweater – http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/st-james which was my first sweater, or even Jane Richmond’s classic raglan – http://www.ravelry.com/projects/TasiaKnits/ladies-classic-raglan-pullover. All three of these would be good starting sweaters I’d say! My first sweater I ended up ripping out and re-knitting at least twice, s don’t worry if it takes a little while to figure it all out. Good luck!

      • Ledys March 26, 2013 at 2:25 am #

        Thanks for the recommendations, Tasia!! I have often wondered why us se wrists so easily gravitate towards knitting. I think, for me, it is because it helps complete outfits when you can make your own accessories!

        Thanks for always being so helpful. I love your blog!

        (And, this is unrelated, but this past week marked the anniversary of completing my Minoru. This was such a big accomplishment for me that I had to make a blog post about it! http://fromthesunnyside.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/minoru-jacket-from-the-old-blog/ I *love* my jacket and can’t wait to get started on Robson :-) Thank you!!)

  17. Meredith March 25, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    That is a beautiful print, so what a great thing to be able to save it! It’s a great skirt, and it looks wonderful with your Laurel sweater!

  18. joanna March 25, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    I have around four dresses shop bought and handmade waiting for this kind of treatment in my stash. Just got to finish my Chambray Beignet and Peppermint mag shorts and will then tackle my dress refashions. you’ve inspired me to get cracking

  19. Katy March 25, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    This looks wonderful. It would have been a crime not to rescue the skirt. Re-fashioning is so rewarding. I’ve recently shortened a couple of wrap cardigans I have – simple turning up and hemming job but I’m so pleased with the results and I wear them all the time.

  20. Jenny March 25, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    Looks great! I did the reverse with a self-drafted circle skirt that was my very first project. I never liked it as I don’t tend to wear skirts, I’m more of a dresses gal. Luckily I still had enough fabric to make a bodice. Attached the two and now I wear it all the time!

  21. Felicia March 25, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    Beautiful fabric! I love to recycle clothes. When I was in college I used to buy most of my clothes at thrift shops in upstate NY and they never fit well so I did a lot of re-styling. I had a beautiful ikat dress that wore out on the sleeves and neckline but the lower half of the dress was in good shape so I made it into a slight A-line with a back zip. It is still my favorite skirt.

  22. Lucy March 25, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    Cool, I need to do this! I have a dress I made a couple of years ago – muslined it and everything – but the top DOES NOT FIT. I’ve been meaning to unpick the waist seam and turn it into a skirt. Thanks for the reminder :-)

  23. Mary jo Barclay March 25, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    I have done this many times with dresses that no longer fit in the sholders and bust. I re purpose quite a bit.

  24. Sarah March 25, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    I did this with an empire-waisted dress I made, upon realizing that empire waists and pear shaped girls don’t always go well together. The dress was way too short, but once it was sitting at the waist instead of the under-bust, it was perfect!

  25. Sue March 25, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

    Have to smile at “unpick.” So, what’s “pick” mean? :) We always say seam ripper, (the tool), and then “rip out” the seam. All I can think of is putting in a zipper by hand, called handpicked, isn’t it? or pricked?

  26. sewamysew March 25, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

    I haven’t had the pleasure of Frankenstyling yet (I just made that up!) but as soon as I read the instruction for Hollyburn I did think the waistband was a good staple to use on any skirt idea. Thanks for walking me through it. Love you blog and your patterns :)

  27. Karla (loanesay) March 25, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    Beautiful! and so inspiring to knit a lauriel as well. <3

  28. Veronica Darling March 25, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Great tip about the zipper too – thanks babes! Perfect save, and that MUSTARD binding is gorgeous!

  29. Pauline March 26, 2013 at 12:48 am #

    Such a cute skirt! I have something very similar planned for a dress of mine that I no longer love the bodice, but the skirt bottom is lace trimmed so I don’t want it to go to waste. It would make such a nice skirt as well.

  30. Stephanie March 26, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

    Great idea! I actually have a few dresses that I could hack up. Your sweater is gorgeous!

  31. aem2 March 27, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    I’ve done this with a shirtdress that I turned into a blouse and I’ve started this with a prom dress that I made 20 years ago: blue crushed velvet bodice, black skirt. The bodice is really dated, but the skirt is fun so about 10 years ago I got rid of the bodice. Yes, the skirt has been waiting that long to gain a waistband. This year, I swear.

  32. Sandra March 30, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    I love that you saved this and made a great skirt. I need to do the same in One of my failed projects.

  33. Kristine April 1, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    It’s funny, I just did this yesterday with a vintage dress I adored but the bodice was too short for me and today I find your post about doing the same thing! I love the idea and think I need to do this more often with all the lovely vintage dresses that I can’t pass up!

  34. Vanessa April 4, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    Lovely new skirt! I’ve been pondering this solution lately for a couple of dresses in my closet.

  35. abby @ teawiththemoon April 10, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    Wow! I’m so impressed with your talent! Looks lovely and it’s great that you could salvage your fabric for a skirt.
    I used to live in Vancouver, please say hi to it for me ;)

  36. Essie April 10, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

    This is beautiful! I also love how you put the outfit together.

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